Social phobia

Social phobia is an anxiety related condition that is a marked and persistent fear of being embarrassed in social situations, fear and worry about being judged badly by other people or being criticised and put down. If you have social anxiety disorder you may experience physical symptoms of anxiety as well as being scared of social interactions. This might lead you to avoid social situations altogether.

What are the signs?

Social phobia emerges in the teenage years and excessively shy people tend to develop it. Onset may follow an abruptly stressful event or humiliating experience. Life stressors can fluctuate with the illness. Other signs of Social Phobia are:

  • Poor social skills
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Observable signs of anxiety (e.g. clammy hands, tremors or shaky voice)
  • Hypersensitivity to criticism
  • Difficulty in being assertive
  • Low self esteem

What are the causes?

The exact causes of social phobia are unknown but there are a number of contributing factors to the disorder including:

  • Genetics
  • Prior experiences of embarrassment in a social context
  • Negative thinking such as "I will make a fool of myself if I go out"
  • Lack of social skills

How is social phobia treated?

Treatment for social phobia depends on the individual and the nature of the disorder. Medication can be used to control anxiety symptoms. Gradual exposure to the feared social situation as well as learning new coping skills are some of the therapeutic approaches used.

Sources of information:

Shyness and Social Anxiety Service of Australia



Information about social phobia by the Shyness & Social Anxiety Service of Australia

This site provides information regarding shyness and social phobia, common situations feared and experienced, how people develop the disorder and treatment.

Information about anxiety (including social anxiety) by Headspace

Headspace is a youth friendly, community based health service for young people aged 12 - 25 and their families. Their page regarding anxiety includes information on social anxiety disorder.

Social phobia information in various languages - Mental Health in Multicultural Australia (MHMA)

MHMA provides national leadership in mental health and suicide prevention for Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. A fact sheet about anxiety which includes information on social phobia, is available in twenty-three different languages.

Anxiety information by Reach Out!

The aim of the service is to improve young people's mental health and well being by providing support information and referrals. Reach Out!'s information page regarding anxiety includes details about social anxiety disorder and phobias.

People with anxiety may be scared or overwhelmed at the thought of getting help. The type and amount of help that families and friends can provide depends on the relationship you have with the person experiencing the disorder. 

Helping someone who isn't ready to recognise they need assistance can be very difficult.

You can help someone by: 

  • spending time talking about their experiences 
  • indicating that you've noticed a change in their behaviour
  • letting them know you're there to listen without being judgemental 
  • suggesting they see a doctor or health professional
  • recommending and/or assisting them to make an appointment with a doctor or health professional
  • going with the person to the doctor or health professional 
  • asking how their appointment went
  • assisting them to find information about anxiety 
  • talking openly about their feelings
  • encouraging them to try to get enough sleep, exercise and eat well 
  • encourage them to use self-help strategies
  • taking them out and keeping in touch - as well as encouraging friends and family members to do the same 
  • encouraging them to face their fears with support from their doctor/psychologist 
  • contacting a doctor or hospital, if they become a threat to themselves or others


Information about helping someone with anxiety by beyondblue

This information page by beyondblue details their approach to helping someone with anxiety.

Reference: beyondblue website


beyondblue is a national, independent, not-for-profit organisation working to address issues associated with depression, anxiety and related substance misuse disorders in Australia.

Reach Out!

An initiative of the Inspire Foundation, Reach Out! is a web based service that provides information, support and interactive features to help young people get through tough times.

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